Last summer Mum and I spent a week in Coniston, Cumbria. We packed up my car with gear and food and drove from south Oxfordshire to the beautiful little village in the South Lakes. It’s a stunning place. We stayed in an AirBnB Cottage above the west side of the lake, the upstairs looked straight across the water to the hills and forest on the east bank. It was a wonderful week; we hiked, explored and swam within the most spectacular landscape. In hindsight, the six hour drive up there was worth it.
We both ascended the Old Man of Coniston. It’s pictured above from the opposite bank of the lake – the pointiest peak on the left. Not until we reached the summit at 802m did I really believe we could do it, climb a mountain! We slowly walked and clambered down the long route home and met some serious, possibly mad, hill runners along the way. Lesson learnt… down hill is much harder on the legs than up hill.
I’ve long been wanting to do more swimming. I’ve enjoyed swimming since I first learnt and I’m a better swimmer than walker. (My family all share bendy ankles so randomly tripping over is a daily experience). I remember fiercely working to keep my head above water when swimming on holidays as a child. Lake swimming in Canada or lengths underwater in a swimming pool, I think I prefer being in water than out. Coniston water is the perfect place for outdoor swimming, it’s very calm and the stoney beaches drop deeply within a few feet of the water’s edge. After we tackled the mountain, swimming in the lake was my next goal. As I bobbed in the waters looking up at the hills and Mountain we had scaled I felt as if we’d fallen into the Shire from Middle Earth. It was so green and peaceful. I went fully prepared with a wetsuit expecting to be chilled through, but the lake was much warmer than I expected. It was colder swimming in the sea on the Devon coast than in Coniston. I probably should have realised it would be. Walking slowly into the cold still lake and swimming through the chilling water is thrilling. Within a few moments, it’s no longer cold. Just spectacular. That being said, a flask of hot ribena is my go to after an outdoor dip.
Coniston Water is one of the largest lakes in Cumbria; it’s five miles long and a half mile wide. One morning we took the Steam Gondola tour around the lake, it does several tours each day stopping at launches around the lake allowing you to hop on and off to explore the surrounding areas beyond the village. Dogs are welcome on board the Gondola and indeed most places we visited around Coniston; I saw plenty of dog water bowls to accommodate four legged family members.
We boarded the Gondola at Coniston Pier and disembarked on the opposite bank to hike a path leading up and along the hills overlooking the water and down again to Brantwood, John Ruskin’s house. We waited for the next Gondola launch in the cafe with a welcome cup of tea and piece of cake. During the boat tour our guide showed us Peel island, the Inspiration for Swallows and Amazons ‘Wild Cat Island’. We also heard about Donald Campbell’s Water Speed Records in Bluebird and his fateful return record attempt in which he died.
I realise now, this is exactly the sort of holiday I love. Being in the countryside, exploring new landscapes, hiking and swimming surrounded by nature. Each evening we arrived back at our cottage; weary but content. It was a relief to pull off boots and sink into cosy chairs by the fire. As much as my legs ached and my feet tingled with de-booted freedom, I couldn’t help but reach for the map to plot the following days adventure. We spent our evenings watching films and continuing long running knitting projects in front of an open fire.
A few thoughts I took from our trip to Coniston:
- The 6hr drive will be worth it. Even if 20mins before arriving at your destination you hit a fallen stone and mangle your wheel and smoosh your tire. If not for a Kindly cyclist who stopped and took pity on us, I may have sat beside that road and cried for the rest of the day.
- I’m beginning to appreciate type 1 and type 2 fun. I’m not sure that’s the best way to describe it but I try to remember that discomfort and doubt are necessary if you want to experience real joy.
- Hill walking is brilliant. I want to do more hill walking. Feeling small in a huge landscape. Just like looking out across a sea or ocean. It’s strangely calming to feel very small in a very big world. Hill walking is tiring and your legs will hate you for a while during the descent, but the world is worth seeing from high up.
- I can climb a mountain. I wasn’t sure I could. My challenge was just to reach the top and the bottom again. Climbing the Old Man of Coniston was a big achievement for me and is now my motivation for pushing past my comfort level.
- If in doubt, go outside. The sounds and colours of nature pull me away from cyclical thoughts in my head and back into feeling the world beneath my feet.
- Wherever I go, I wish there to be dogs. If there are dogs then I’ll give it a try.